Perhaps you have heard of the term “freeware,” but maybe you don’t know what it means. If you are a little tired of pretending to understand it in conversations and nodding silently, this is for you. I am going to do a little breakdown of what freeware is and what it is used for.
We are talking about going beyond the definition, friends. Let’s dig in deep and see what we can learn.
When we start, we need to start at the beginning. Freeware is exactly what it says. It is “free” soft-“ware.” It has a clever name and a simple meaning. Freeware has been floating around for a long time, offering free solutions for people who simply cannot afford to purchase the mainstream software that is incredibly expensive.
The quality for freeware is mixed. Being that it is something that someone writes and puts up on the internet for free, there is simply not the same amount of quality control than there is with name brand software that you buy. But even the stuff you buy can have bugs and issues, so just think of software as a hit and miss kind of thing, though it is incredibly frustrating when things do not operate as well as you believe they should be operating.
Most of the time, you cannot edit freeware or give it to others without permission. Even though you received it for free, it should not be just passed around without going back to the source. The first reason is that you could deface the original author by showing broken versions of their products that they did not break themselves. The other is that you could be passing around something that is bugged or out of date.
Sometimes freeware is just a free part of a bigger software program. While they are not charging you for this piece, if you love it or want more, then they can charge you for a more expensive product. In this case, the freeware is used for self-promotion.
If you are wondering how that works to license something that they have given to you for free, there is a simple answer here. In order for software to be considered freeware it needs to be able to be used unlimitedly, even if this means that it in itself has limited functionality. What that means is free trials are not freeware since their intent is to have you pay when your trial is over. They typically will take your credit card information ahead of time and say they are not charging you until the trial period is over. Most of the time, people will forget to cancel the trial and wind up paying for it anywhere. If a software company has done that, then they are not offering freeware.
Freeware is not the same as open source software. I want to be clear on that. Open source software sits on the internet and is open for anyone to come through and use and edit as they need to be. Freeware is software that is licensed and not able to be edited; it is simply software that they are offering to you for free. Open source can be distributed and changed at will since the internet owns the license (meaning that no one owns the license). Freeware has someone who owns that license and means you do not have the right to copy it and spread it all over the place.
While the Free Software Foundation says that freeware itself does not have a definition, I think that it is easiest to think of it as software that is being offered for you to use for free, with no strings attached. But just because you can use it for free, does not give you the right to give it to others for free.